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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Damned if you do do 

You'll recall that Kerry argued that the war in Iraq was a diversion from the real war - to get Al Qaeda. However, there are issues - just like in the biometrics industry - with making the wrong decision. Do you apply a lax standard to identifying Al Qaeda members, possibly letting real terrorists get away, or do you apply a harsh standard, possibly charging innocent people? Either way you're gonna get criticized.

This is what is going on now with the case of the German (Khaled Masri) who was mistakenly apprehended in Macedonia. MSNBC attempts to explain why this false identification happened:

After the September 2001 attacks, pressure to locate and nab potential terrorists...bore down hard on one CIA office in particular, the Counterterrorist Center, or CTC....With operations officers and analysts sitting side by side, the idea was to act on tips and leads with dramatic speed.

The possibility of missing another attack loomed large. "Their logic was: If one of them gets loose and someone dies, we'll be held responsible," said one CIA officer....

To carry out its mission, the CTC relies on its Rendition Group....Members of the Rendition Group follow a simple but standard procedure: Dressed head to toe in black, including masks, they blindfold and cut the clothes off their new captives, then administer an enema and sleeping drugs. They outfit detainees in a diaper and jumpsuit for what can be a day-long trip. Their destinations: either a detention facility operated by cooperative countries in the Middle East and Central Asia, including Afghanistan, or one of the CIA's own covert prisons -- referred to in classified documents as "black sites," which at various times have been operated in eight countries, including several in Eastern Europe....

Thousands of tips and allegations about potential threats poured in after the [September 11] attacks. Stung by the failure to detect the plot, CIA officers passed along every tidbit. The process of vetting and evaluating information suffered greatly, former and current intelligence officials said. "Whatever quality control mechanisms were in play on September 10th were eliminated on September 11th," a former senior intelligence official said....

J. Cofer Black, a professorial former spy who spent years chasing Osama bin Laden, was the CTC's director....Some colleagues said his fervor was in line with the responsibility Bush bestowed on the CIA when he signed a top secret presidential finding six days after the 9/11 attacks. It authorized an unprecedented range of covert action, including lethal measures and renditions, disinformation campaigns and cyber attacks against the al Qaeda enemy, according to current and former intelligence officials. Black's attitude was exactly what some CIA officers believed was needed to get the job done....[T]he new approach was similar to the flashier paramilitary operations that had worked so well in Afghanistan, and played well at the White House, where the president was keeping a scorecard of captured or killed terrorists.

The person most often in the middle of arguments over whether to dispatch a rendition team was a former Soviet analyst with spiked hair that matched her in-your-face personality who heads the CTC's al Qaeda unit, according to a half-dozen CIA veterans who know her. Her name is being withheld because she is under cover.

She earned a reputation for being aggressive and confident, just the right quality, some colleagues thought, for a commander in the CIA's global war on terrorism. Others criticized her for being overzealous and too quick to order paramilitary action....

Here are excerpts of the Khaled Masri story.

Masri, an unemployed father of five living in Ulm, Germany, said he had gone by bus to Macedonia to blow off steam after a spat with his wife. He was taken off a bus at the Tabanovce border crossing by [Macedonian] police because his name was similar to that of an associate of a 9/11 hijacker....

The police treated Masri firmly but cordially, asking about his passport, which they insisted was forged, about al Qaeda and about his hometown mosque, he said. When he pressed them to let him go, they displayed their pistols.

Unbeknown to Masri, the Macedonians had contacted the CIA station in Skopje. The station chief was on holiday. But the deputy chief, a junior officer, was excited about the catch and about being able to contribute to the counterterrorism fight....

In the first weeks of 2004, an argument arose over whether the CIA should take Masri from local authorities and remove him from the country for interrogation, a classic rendition operation.

The director of the al Qaeda unit supported that approach. She insisted he was probably a terrorist, and should be imprisoned and interrogated immediately....

Masri said his cell in Afghanistan was cold, dirty and in a cellar, with no light and one dirty cover for warmth. The first night he said he was kicked and beaten and warned by an interrogator: "You are here in a country where no one knows about you, in a country where there is no law. If you die, we will bury you, and no one will know."...

Back at the CTC, Masri's passport was given to the Office of Technical Services to analyze. By March, OTS had concluded the passport was genuine. The CIA had imprisoned the wrong man.

At the CIA, the question was: Now what? Some officials wanted to go directly to the German government; others did not. Someone suggested a reverse rendition: Return Masri to Macedonia and release him. "There wouldn't be a trace. No airplane tickets. Nothing. No one would believe him," one former official said. "There would be a bump in the press, but then it would be over."

Once the mistake reached Tenet, he laid out the options to his counterparts, including the idea of not telling the Germans. Condoleezza Rice, then Bush's national security adviser, and Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage argued they had to be told, a position Tenet took, according to one former intelligence official....

The CIA argued for minimal disclosure of information. The State Department insisted on a truthful, complete statement. The two agencies quibbled over whether it should include an apology, according to officials.

Meanwhile, Masri was growing desperate. There were rumors that a prisoner had died under torture. Masri could not answer most questions put to him. He said he steadied himself by talking with other prisoners and reading the Koran.

A week before his release in late May 2004, Masri said he was visited in prison by a German man with a goatee who called himself Sam. Masri said he asked him if he were from the German government and whether the government knew he was there. Sam said he could not answer either question.

"Does my wife at least know I'm here?" Masri asked.

"No, she does not," Sam replied, according to Masri....

Masri can find few words to explain his ordeal. "I have very bad feelings" about the United States, he said. "I think it's just like in the Arab countries: arresting people, treating them inhumanly and less than that, and with no rights and no laws."

From Obsidian Wings:

Today, Condoleeza Rice made a speech that was remarkable for its sheer bald-faced dishonesty. I have not tried to pick out all the false statements she made. But here are a few of the more obvious howlers:

"Rice: The United States does not transport, and has not transported, detainees from one country to another for the purpose of interrogation using torture."

Reality: To believe this, you'd have to believe that the United States transports detainees to countries like Syria and Uzbekistan without thinking that they will be tortured there. Consider Syria: are we on such good terms with Syria that we swap prisoners all the time, just for kicks? What, exactly, does Syrian intelligence have to recommend itself as an agency to transport prisoners to, other than its willingness to torture?

But Fat Steve argues that all's fair in war and war:

What concerns Priest and the Post is that, (brace yourself for a shock), the CIA sometimes gets things wrong. For instance, a Khaled Masri was detained as a suspected terrorist by the Macedonian police. The Macedonian cops informed the CIA, which, for reasons that Priest doesn't reveal or doesn't know, decided they wished to interrogate Masri. The Macedonians, who had been holding Masri for three weeks, turned him over to the U.S. He was held and interrogated for about another four months, then released, the CIA having concluded they'd made a mistake — or at least, so say the anonymous sources. The possibility that they might be dishonest is never raised.

Just in case an idiot reads this: a pity we held the wrong guy (if Khaled Masri was indeed innocent), but that happens all the time. Human beings are fallible. Perhaps Masri should win a lawsuit against the U.S. government. But I'm glad the War on Terrorism is being prosecuted vigorously.

Fat Steve, incidentally, hasn't posted anything since Monday. Perhaps his attempt at pretending to be patriotic was not believed, and he has been taken in for questioning.

From the Ontario Empoblog (Latest OVVA news here)

        "Fat Steve, incidentally, hasn't posted anything since Monday.  Perhaps his attempt at pretending to be patriotic was not believed, and he has been taken in for questioning."

        Sorry to dissapoint you, but I am still at large.  I posted further at Fat Steve's Blatherings, and have since created a new blog that is not affiliated with the odious Google, Rants and Rayguns.

        And by the way, I don't mind your mischaracterizing my argument, but I do resent your questioning my patriotism.

Fat Steve
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